[Editor's note: This story was updated at 10:22 a.m. CT March 29.]

U.S. gasoline stocks and distillate stockpiles dropped sharply last week as refinery runs jumped, while crude inventories grew less than anticipated, a relief for those hoping for a long-anticipated drawdown in petroleum stocks, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said March 29.

Crude inventories rose 867,000 barrels (bbl) in the week ending March 24, compared with analysts' expectations for an increase of 1.4 MMbbl. Total inventories were nearly 534 MMbbl, EIA data shows, a record.

Gasoline and distillate stockpiles were down more than expected as refinery run rates increased, giving some hope as the energy industry reaches the end of refinery maintenance season and as driving demand is expected to rise.

"A little surprised by the magnitude of refined product draws, but gratified," said Keith Barnett, senior vice president at ARM Energy in Houston. "These stats help take away the bearish pall that has been cast over the crude market."

Gasoline stocks fell 3.7 MMbbl, compared with expectations for a 1.9-MMbbl drop, while distillate stockpiles, which includes diesel and heating oil, were down 2.5 MMbbl, vs. analyst expectations for a 1.2 MMbbl decline, the EIA said.

"The large decline in gasoline inventories was notable because it came despite merely decent demand," said John Kilduff, partner at energy hedge fund Again Capital in New York.

U.S. energy prices rose after the data, led by gasoline RBOB futures which rose 2% to a three-week high of $1.6669 a gallon by 9:54 a.m. CT (15:54 GMT).

Crack spreads, a measure of refining margins, also increased, as product inventories have been declining more quickly than crude stocks.

U.S. crude futures rose 1.5% to $49.09/bbl.

At the end of last week, gasoline stocks sat at 240 MMbbl, and have fallen 7.5% over the last six weeks.

Refinery crude runs rose 425,000 bbl/d as utilization rates gained 1.9 percentage points to 89.3% of total capacity, the EIA data showed.

Crude stocks at the Cushing, Okla., delivery hub fell 220,000 bbl, EIA said.

U.S. crude imports dropped by 543,000 bbl/d.